UN Syria panel: IS committing genocide against Yazidis

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Posted: Jun 16, 2016 12:11 PM

GENEVA (AP) — The Islamic State group is committing genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes against the Yazidi community in Iraq and Syria, a U.N. panel said Thursday, calling on countries to do more to stop it and build a legal case on top of political condemnation from countries like the United States.

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued its first report Thursday specifically looking at IS crimes against Yazidis after the extremist group's attack on unarmed Yazidi communities in northwestern Iraq in August 2014. Many Yazidis were taken into Syria, and over 3,200 Yazidi women and children are still captive, the report said.

The 41-page report, based on 45 interviews with survivors, religious leaders, activists, medical staffers and others, seeks to put allegations of rape, sexual slavery and other crimes in a wider context of crimes against humanity and genocide by alleging that such practices are part of a IS strategy to wipe out the Yazidis, whom the radicals see as infidels.

"ISIS' abuse of Yazidi men, women and children amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," commission chair Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva. IS statements and conduct show the group "intended to destroy the Yazidis of Sinjar in whole or in part," he said, and "the genocide is ongoing."

Such official claims of genocide against a non-state actor are rare, if not unprecedented. Genocide has traditionally been associated with state-sponsored mass killings like in the Holocaust or in massacres in Rwanda, but the report says that the term fits when intent exists "in the perpetrator's mind" that the crimes can destroy a group partly or entirely.

The U.N. estimates that some 5,000 Yazidi men were killed by IS militants when they took control of Iraq's northwest two years ago and thousands more people, mostly women and children, were taken into captivity. Most of the Yazidi population — some 400,000 people — was displaced.

While countries like the United States, at a political level, have alleged IS genocide against Yazidis, the report seeks to bolster a possible legal case against those responsible and encourage the U.N. Security Council to hand the matter to the International Criminal Court or a separate ad hoc tribunal.

"We regard this as a road map for prosecution," said commission member Carla Del Ponte. "It is time now to start to obtain justice for the victims."

The U.N. Security Council should "consider engaging its Chapter 7 powers" — which could authorize the use of force, the report said.

In New York, French ambassador to the U.N. Francois Delattre, whose country currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency, said: "This very important report clearly shows the systematic barbarity of the terrorist group, and I'm sure that, yes, we'll discuss this in the Security Council."

UN Watch, a non-governmental group, praised the report but said the matter should be brought up before the U.N.'s Human Rights Council currently in session in Geneva, saying that it should adopt a resolution that supports the finding of genocide against IS and then send its findings to the Security Council.

"Unless these minimal steps are taken, the experts' finding risks being just more words on paper, without protecting a single Yazidi man, woman, or child," UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer said in a statement.

The report cited slave markets in Syria where Yazidi women and girls are sold exclusively to IS fighters and said that within the last year, IS has begun holding online slave auctions using an encrypted application to circulate photos of captured Yazidi women and girls.

The report mentions cases of boys over 7 years old captured, taken from their families and indoctrinated, pointing to one instance of a boy being brainwashed by an ISIS commander and ordered to kill his own father. It described IS fighters treating women as chattel, with some women being bought and sold a dozen times.

The four-member Council of Inquiry on Syria has been in place almost since unrest leading to Syria's civil war broke out in early 2011. A divided Security Council has blocked its attempts to refer the case to the International Criminal Court and no one has been brought to justice as a result of its numerous findings.

Unlike its previous reports, commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn said the "value added" of Thursday's report is documenting specific allegations of genocide in Syria, not just war crimes and other atrocities that have been known about for years amid the violence between President Bashar Assad's forces and his armed opponents.

He said the commission knows of specific individuals in the multinational IS forces who are allegedly responsible for the genocide and war crimes. Though the commission did not make the names public, it has told informed home governments about those suspects so as to possibly facilitate prosecution one day, Muntarbhorn said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Astor contributed from the United Nations.

More on the report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx